In 2008, movie star Joaquin Phoenix was troubled that his chosen vocation was not satisfying him the way he wanted it to, not satisfying him at all. He had to find a new way to express himself, and a charity performance on stage with Danny DeVito made up his mind: he would give up acting for good. But what would he replace it with? The answer was obvious, he had always been interested in music, so becoming a rapper was the natural choice, but he would find over the next year that people found it hard to take him seriously, and rumours that this whole act was a hoax dogged him...
Probably because it was indeed a hoax, as director Casey Affleck admitted shortly after the film was released. This was one of those documentaries from 2010 where the veracity of what we were seeing was called into question, except that the filmmakers lost their nerve in this instance and for reasons best known to themselves let the cat out of the bag, probably due to the notable lack of interest the public showed in the project once it hit cinemas. Knowledge that it was all staged did not make this some elaborate big screen Candid Camera, alas, but simply served to render the experience wholly pointless.
You cannot say that Phoenix and Affleck were not dedicated to their art, as the former grew his hair and beard, put on weight, and began acting the buffoon in public as well as for his brother-in-law's cameras. Watching this you get the impression that after a while they began to not be too sure where the line between fiction and reality was, as in some regards you could see I'm Still Here as a cry for help, no matter how arch they thought they were being. The truth of the matter was that it was neither outrageous enough or insightful enough to truly justify spending time with these two stars as they engaged in their mammoth self-indulgence.
Little wonder that so many of the hardy few who actually did see this were left feeling resentful, as if their time had been wasted by those old enough to know better. For most of this the film was excruciatingly boring, like listening to a self-obsessed celebrity willfully pouring his career down the drain, and once you had heard one mumbling ramble emerge from the Phoenix facial furniture you had heard one too many. We're meant to be interested in the budding rap career that they try to get Sean Combs, aka P Diddy, to produce, yet even to the untrained ear we could tell that Phoenix was hopeless and that he was wasting Combs' time, even if he was in on the gag.
Every so often something almost interesting occurs, such as the subject snorting cocaine off a hooker's tits, or his supposed best friend Antony Langdon (you know, from Spacehog? You remember Spacehog? No?) taking a shit on his sleeping face in revenge for Langdon's ill-treatment at his hands. But the fact remained, the best part was that interview with David Letterman that if you were at all following this sorry tale you would have already seen, where Letterman, whatever you think about him, skewered the pathetic enterprise with a few well-aimed barbs. In that clip, the production's sorry pretensions are laid bare, and you acknowledge that what you're watching may have been a waste of time for you, but imagine how much of a dead loss it must have been for the careers of Phoenix and Affleck. As an act of self-sabotage, his best chance at a new career after this lay with professional swearing. Or is that what he thought rapping was? Music by Marty Fogg.
[Optimum's Region 2 DVD has two audio commentaries, an interview with Phoenix, and other deleted material and odds and ends as extras.]